China and Relationships

Well, our police troubles still haven’t completely disappeared. The same officer has been back several times, including yesterday just before church again! He wants money, is what it boils down to. Of course, this can’t be said in so many words. It is an elaborate dance of intrigue and aggravation. We’ve had to learn a couple lessons about fixing situations like this. As everyone who’s been to China for five minutes knows, ‘relationships are very important to Chinese society.’ I think they’re considering posting it on a sign in the airport near international arrivals. At face value, the theorem means nothing – can you imagine a country where relationships were unimportant? But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover the true meaning – ‘bribery and extortion are very important to Chinese society.’ Naturally – they are in every country where something besides law rules supreme.

Anyway, the cop insists that we are breaking fire regulations. We implore him to tell us in which respects. ‘Too many,’ is the closest we get to an answer. Code for, ‘I don’t know and I don’t care – you’re going to give me money.’ Try to imagine: our building (about 2,000 sq. ft.) has a built-in sprinkler system, two fire hoses, and five fire extinguishers. Our building layout consists of basically one big huge room. I’m not sure the fire station itself could do as well on the test. But, of course, that doesn’t matter. So here’s what does matter – here’s the different routes that we attempted to take to fix the situation:

1. Make friends with the cop. Dirty cops are like stray cats – if you feed them, they come back. But we still tried the most direct route. The nicest he’d be was to charge us a fine of about $300 and make us sign a paper that pretty much signs over all power of our company over to the police department. Wanted to avoid that, for obvious reasons. Getting our building in code was out of the question, he said. According to him, we’d have to tear down everything and start again. The advice most people gave us was to give him some money – but drag it out for a long time so that he feels like our money is a pain to get.

2. Consult a lawyer. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while anyway. A consultation with a really good lawyer in our city cost us about $15. She said she could handle the situation for us for about $750. How would she handle it? She would call her friends at the police station, invite them to eat, have a bunch of drinks with them, and get them to make this problem go away. At the end of the meeting, we asked ‘for a friend’ if it was possible to make an underground church into a legal church. Impossible, she said, anyone who tells you they can is just taking you for a ride.

3. Talk to the building manager. Lot of buildings, and this cop is supposed to be the supervisor of them all. So we talk to the manager of the properties we rent from. He advises us to give the guy some money. As things got more serious, he offered to undertake the aforementioned dinner shenanigans. But he’s busy, so it’s hard to say what we had to do for him to get him to something for us.

4. Trust our accountant. We pay a small company to handle our accounting and other necessary paperwork. They have the same kind of ‘relationships’ as the building manager. Actually called us once to tell us they had handled the situation for us. So we were pretty happy… until the cop came back on Sunday. This time he stayed for a long time and saw a couple Bibles and songbooks. If he comes back many more times, I don’t know how he can not figure it out.

5. Lastly, and most (hopefully) effectively – we discovered recently that we have some kind of municipal supervisor for our area. He’s a young guy, fresh out of the military. He came by the other day to introduce himself, and he became friends with one of the guys. Turns out he’s got some test coming up that will qualify him for higher government service. So he’s been coming by and studying with one of the guys at our place. Turns out that his dad is also ‘well connected’ at the police department. When his new friend told him about all the junk we’ve been dealing with lately, he said his dad would be able to handle it. So, as the accountant’s promised help fell through, we got in touch with this guy’s dad this week and gave him about $150, which he will use to throw a dinner party of his own.

So, that’s a little picture of what it’s like dealing with the corruption (is there another word for it?) here. It can be frustrating, but it’s a reminder that God is the only one who we can fully rely on.

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